Because of trades and free agency, running back and linebacker are the two biggest areas of need for the Buffalo Bills. General Manager Marv Levy and Assistant GM Tom Modrak said as much during the team's annual pre-draft luncheon Wednesday.
The Bills have been in the market for a running back since trading Willis McGahee to Baltimore. One possibility was San Diego restricted free agent Michael Turner, who visited Buffalo recently.
Although talks are ongoing, Levy doubts a deal will happen.
"There's nothing new to report right now," Levy told reporters at the Bills' practice facility. "There are so many complexities to the deal that if it's done, I've got to tell you, it would be a surprise."
The Chargers would receive a first- and third-round draft pick from the team that signs Turner before Friday's deadline. Any trade can be worked out before or after the deadline, but it would be contingent upon signing Turner to a long-term contract.
Turner's agent, Bus Cook, said in Tuesday's edition of the Nashville Tennessean he thinks his client will remain in San Diego next season.
"Things could change, and it could happen on draft day, too," Cook said. "Nothing is happening right now, though."
For now, the Bills will look to the draft for another running back. And with the 12th pick in the first round, they may have a shot at one of the draft's top two prospects -- Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson or California's Marshawn Lynch.
Peterson is expected to be one of the first 10 players chosen. Levy wouldn't rule out trading up to get Peterson, but it's highly unlikely because it would be very costly in terms of signing Peterson and the Bills would lose valuable picks.
Lynch probably will be available at No. 12 if the Bills want him. Modrak likes Lynch's versatility.
"He's a candidate to be a three-down guy," Modrak said. "He's a strong runner, but he's got movement. He's not a straight-line runner. He can hit big plays for you. He catches the ball very well. Like almost every back in college they don't ask guys to pass-block a lot, especially the stars. He does it when he is called upon."
While Lynch would be a good fit for the Bills, they aren't married to taking a running back first. Levy believes you can get a quality player after Round One. He proved that in 1988 when the Bills took Thurman Thomas in the second round. He also pointed to Pittsburgh's undrafted starter Willie Parker and former Denver sixth-rounder Terrell Davis as examples of unheralded college backs who emerged quickly in the pros. Ohio State's Antonio Pittman would be a solid choice for the Bills in the second round.
"Running back is a position where if the best one is there and you want him, get him," Levy said, but added the Bills won't take a running back over a player at another position that is rated higher on their board.
With Takeo Spikes traded to Philadelphia, London Fletcher signing with Washington and Angelo Crowell recovering from a broken leg, Levy acknowledged help is needed at linebacker. To be exact, the Bills want a linebacker who is a run-stuffer.
The best prospect in the draft is Mississippi's Patrick Willis. The consensus All-American and Butkus Award winner is among numerous rookies the Bills have brought in for visits.
The Bills have considered moving Crowell from the weak side to the middle. But he would slide to the strong-side spot if the Bills draft Willis, a natural middle linebacker with the size, instincts and toughness to excel at the pro level.
Willis raised a lot of eyebrows when he ran a staggering 4.37-second 40-yard dash at his on-campus workout a few weeks after running 4.51 seconds at the combine. Some players are faster on the track than they are on the field. But Modrak said that isn't the case with Willis after looking at the game film.
"In his case, his timed speed supports his ability to run on the field," Modrak said. "We know that he's fast, he can run and get to the ball anywhere on the field and cover the field. Just by his numbers he makes a lot of plays."
Another topic was wide receivers. The Bills return their top four, but Levy said the Bills haven't "closed the book" on drafting another.
The Bills need to get more production opposite Lee Evans. They also could use a wideout with more size. They aren't expected to take a receiver in the first round, but big targets like South Carolina's Sidney Rice (6-foot-3 1/2 , 197), LSU's Craig Davis (6-1, 202) and possibly USC's Dwayne Jarrett (6-4, 214) could be available early in Round Two. East Carolina's Aundrae Allison (6-0, 198), Washington State's Jason Hill (6-0 1/2 , 204), Virginia Tech's David Clowney (6-0 1/2 , 188) and Lane College's Jacoby Jones (6-2, 210) are Day One possibilities later.
"There is no position, including wide receiver, we say, 'We're set,' " Levy said. "If the right one is there at the right time, whoever that might be, we'll look at him."
One position the Bills won't be looking at in the draft is fullback. Levy indicated the coaching staff plans to use tight ends in that role.
Levy said at least one tight end will be added either in the draft or free agency to compete with holdovers Robert Royal, Brad Cieslak and Kevin Everett.